When American tourists Lucy McLaverty and Maxine Desmond saw the sign "Thistleburn--Experience the Medieval"--they thought of nothing more than finding a welcome respite from a fierce storm buffeting the Scottish highlands. But when morning comes, more than the weather has changed. Though still in Scotland, they discover they have been transported 700 years into the past. With little more than their wits to protect them, Lucy and Max are immediately branded as witches and locked in the castle dungeon to await the judgment of the Laird of Thistleburn, Sir Evan Lyells. His timely return brings an end to the first plot to burn them at the stake but makes a dangerous enemy of the castle's cunning English priest, Adair Beath. Lucy's ability to read (a talent previously reserved to Beath) and to speak foreign languages proves valuable to the brawny laird. Soon she is at his side regularly and an improbable chemistry begins to develop between the two. That chemistry ignites during a raucous banquet, featuring the cuisine of restaurateur Maxine, when Sir Evan reveals to Lucy the dark secret that has blackened his heart. For Lucy, the emptiness of her life in modern times has finally been filled but with a man--and in a century--to which she can never belong. The Spellbox captures the passion of Lucy and Sir Evan in a backdrop of violence, rebellion, and treachery that was Scotland seven centuries ago. Two resourceful women survive the challenge and adventure of this mysterious journey, and when only one returns to modern time, the story that links the past, the present, and the future is complete.
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
Former actress and director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author and professional screenplay consultant whose credits include 25 books, 120 plays and musicals, 4 optioned feature films, and columns/interviews that appear in publications throughout the world. She and her husband reside in Pasadena, California.
"The Spellbox swept me away! Can we say Sean Connery? Oh, I fell in love with Evan Lyells! His brogue alone would win the heart of any maiden. Not to mention a married woman who lost her innocence long back. Yummy! I laughed. I was charmed by the innocence. Plus, I wrinkled my nose up at just how apt Christina Hamlett was with her descriptions of their living conditions."Buzzy's Reviews -- eBookAd and idwest Book Reviews
"The book is dramatic with an overtone of humor added to it. Max is the comedic sidekick and Lucy the helpless romantic. Beath is the perfect villain to hate for his tactics could make a barrel of milk curdle. This is a must read for those who enjoy historical romance and time-travel. Christina has captured the essence of the era with incandescent fervor."Tamara Fairchild -- Independent Publisher
"The use of the spellbox for time travel was a unique mechanism ... Ms. Hamlett created an interesting cast of characters, and the reader knows why these people act as they do. The Spellbox is a different take on time travels, and for those who love them is well worth the time."Scribes World Reviews
THE HOLLOW toll of the abbey's single bell prompted the white-haired Reverend Pote to speed up what had become a rambling monologue.
"...last of them buried beneath these floors," he said.
"Ooooh, gross!" snorted one of the portly teenage boys whose steady stream of interruption had caused Pote nothing but grief since the afternoon tour began.
Maxine Desmond nudged Lucy as she indicated the broken stone slab on which they were standing, its inscription barely visible from centuries of foot-traffic. "Gross is right," she murmured under her breath, shifting her weight as if the interred might reach up at any moment and grab her boot-clad ankle.
Lucy McLaverty's attention, though, was still lingering on something odd that Pote had earlier shared with his rain-soaked audience of German and American tourists. "Wasn't it unusual," she suddenly spoke up, "that all the knights knew how to read and write?" Thirteenth-century Scotland, she added, was better known for its bloodshed than for bookish pursuits.
Maxine rolled her eyes. Good ol' Luce. Always curious. Always the student. "Don't get him going again," she started to warn, but Pote -- flattered to be the focus of so pretty and intelligent a listener -- had already begun his reply.
"That has been a puzzlement to scholars of the period," he acknowledged with a grave nod of his head. As everyone knew, he went on, only the clergy had been privileged to decipher the power of the written word. "One can only conclude," Pote said, "that their advanced state of literacy had something to do with the woman."
"Here! Here!" Maxine exclaimed. Ever the feminist, it had long been her contention that females were entitled to the lion's share of credit for mankind's higher accomplishments.
Flustered by her outburst, Pote was quick to correct what he assumed was a misunderstanding. "I was referring specifically to the princess," he said. "Or so she seemed to be..."
His voice was underscored with just enough shadow for one of the Germans to post inquiry.
Maxine nudged Lucy again. "Ready to go?" Her impatience to make it to Stirling by sundown had been undisguised for most of the day, particularly in light of inclement weather and their lack of a waiting hotel reservation.
"I want to hear this," Lucy replied, firmly rooted to where she stood.
Maxine's insistence that the whole story was probably in the Fodor's guidebook went ignored. "You can't get history like this out of any book," Lucy said when pressed a second time.
With a prefacing sigh of annoyance, Maxine decided to go wait in the car.
Pote had started to shuffle toward the back of the abbey, his entourage dutifully falling in step behind him. "The legend says that she came from the moon," the reverend explained. The teenage boys snickered, indifferent to the adult glares of censure cast their way.
Pote was now directing their view to something on the wall. Something so small, in fact, that no one in the group was entirely sure what they were supposed to be looking at. Lucy followed the point of his long, bony finger to what appeared to be a piece of painted porcelain wedged into the stones and no bigger than a postage stamp.
"This miniature is all that we know about her," he said, "besides, of course, the profound influence she had on Thistleburn's standing with its neighbors." He had barely launched his next sentence about Scotland's turbulent history when he was interrupted again.
"So what's in the picture?" a woman's voice piped up. "We can't see."
"Well, it's rather difficult to make out," Pote replied, "but she has long hair and sits on a crescent... perhaps an allusion to her origins. The placement of her hands suggests a state of prayer."
Transfixed, Lucy tried to move a little closer. "What's the significance of it being here in the church?" she asked.
Pote shook his head. "No one really knows, my dear. But one would have to assume that this place held special meaning to her..."
* * *
"I WAS BEGINNING to think he'd put you all to sleep," Maxine remarked as Lucy let herself into the rented Tercel half an hour later.
"Actually, he was pretty interesting. You should've stayed."
"Yeah, right." Maxine tossed the dog-eared guidebook into Lucy's lap. "Find us a place to park it for the night."
Lucy arched a dark brow of inquiry. "Wasn't that what you were doing?" The vision of Max idling for thirty minutes in a fogged-up car without accomplishing something was inconsistent with her penchant to be efficient.
"Hell, no," Maxine said with a snort as she ran both hands through her short cropped hair. "I have a restaurant to run, remember?" The fact that it was over six thousand miles away and being run by her assistant hadn't stopped her the entire week from obsessing about its well-being. She indicated the thick Franklin planner and tablet on the backseat. "Remind me to find a fax machine when we get to Stirling."
Lucy suppressed a smile at her friend's inability to put work on a back burner and just enjoy the scenery. Had it really been a week already, she marveled, quietly amused by the contrast that she hadn't given her own job at Murakami Bank a second thought ever since they'd boarded the plane in San Francisco.
"...make sure it's got at least three stars," she half-heard her companion advise as they pulled out of the abbey's muddy parking lot and on to the main road.
Maxine and her fixation with auto club ratings. I could never be that much of a fanatic about it, Lucy thought. Just give me a soft bed and a hot meal and I'm happy as a clam. Then again, Max's acquisition of five stars for DESMOND'S had been hard won and well deserved. She had probably earned the right to be a little persnickety.
They were as different as two friends could possibly be, yet each had found in the other a compatible traveling companion. Between Lucy's assignments in international relations for Murakami and Maxine's globe-trotting quest for new recipes, they had racked up a fair share of frequent flyer miles between them in the past ten years.
"They should do a movie about your adventures," Max's husband, Cal, had once remarked. "Maybe something with Tyne Daly and Julia Roberts." That he had so quickly ascribed the younger, cuter role to Lucy had done nothing to endear him to his wife. Then again, Max and Cal Desmond would never be mistaken by anyone as the world's most affectionate couple. Lucy often wondered if her friend's eagerness to travel at the drop of a hat wasn't an excuse to pretend she was single.
"Can you believe all these dead rabbits?" Maxine muttered, swerving into the right lane to avoid yet another one. "Geez!"
"They probably don't see the cars coming," Lucy sympathetically replied.
The infrequency of vehicles, coupled with the low-lying Highland fog, had to account for the bunnies' false sense of security in crossing to the opposite side.
Maxine recalled to her memory an item they'd both seen on the children's menu at the restaurant where they'd had lunch. "At least we know where they get the 'Thumper Burgers'," she said.
"You have a sick mind," Lucy chided her.
"Yeah, right, so why else do you suppose they call them that?"
"Disney," Lucy replied. "Wasn't the 'Bambi Dessert Bar' a clue?"
"Oh, Luce, you're such a romantic..."
The rain, which had thus far been a minor impediment to their sightseeing, had suddenly increased its intensity. So, too, had the sky turned an ominous shade of slate gray since their leaving the abbey.
"Are you sure this is the right way?" Lucy asked. Stirling's prominence on the map should have been reflected by now in road signs heralding approach.
"You're the navigator," Maxine reminded her.
"Yeah, well I think we screwed up on that last round-about."
Lucy smirked. "Mea culpa."
"Just find us a place to flip a U-ee."
"I wouldn't try it just yet," Lucy cautioned. The winding ribbon of road had progressively narrowed. Coupled with the absence of any shoulder on which to pull off, they were committed to maintaining their current direction for at least a little bit longer.
"I can't believe how early it gets dark around here," Maxine muttered as if the elements had conspired on purpose to delay her.
"It's the middle of October," Lucy pointed out. "It'd be just as dark at home."
"At home, I wouldn't be lost." She punched the windshield wiper button to the higher speed to match the furious slant of rain against the glass.
"We're not that lost, Max."
"Easy for you to say."
Okay, so that was another difference between them. As far as Lucy was concerned, being lost from time to time wasn't nearly the catastrophe that Max liked to paint. "Getting lost is Fate's way of saving you from something worse," Lucy's mother had always said.
She had also been the one to fill Lucy's head with colorful stories of her Scottish ancestry, in spite of the fact that the family tree had been traced back no farther than to her great grandfather, Ian McLaverty. Ian, orphaned at birth, had taken his surname from the farmers who found him. Whatever lineage he'd come from, no one had ever known.
"What the hell's that?" Maxine's voice sharply spoke up. Lucy looked up to catch sight of the hand-painted sign now reflected in the headlights' beam.
EXPERIENCE THE MEDIEVAL.
The oversize cut-out of a hand, index finger extended, was flapping in the wind.
"Like we need another tourist trap..." Maxine said, irritated that she had even slowed down to read it.
"At least we could ask them directions," Lucy suggested. To her surprise, Max had already started to turn in. "I don't believe it," Lucy said. "You actually listened to me?"
"No," Max retorted. "I need to find a bathroom and I'm assuming they have one."
The intricate lace work of dark branches towering above them obscured what little light remained of the day as they entered the road.
"Pretty setting," Lucy commented as the Tercel eased its way through the puddles across a narrow stone bridge.
"Yeah, if you like that sort of thing."
Clearly, Lucy thought, her friend would do a lot better once she had a dry Martini behind her and a new day to look forward to.
As for herself, she did like this sort of thing. Nature. History. Indomitable Scottish spirit. Even the storm was refreshing, although the idea of sleeping in the car that night if they didn't get a reservation -- well, she'd worry about that if and when the time actually came.
"Maybe they can recommend a hotel for us in Stirling," she started to say, but the sentence ended in a cry of alarm as the car struck a low stone wall that neither woman had seen until it was too late.